overthinking the idiot box

February 1, 2006

Rejected Column Titles: "Kirk Wouldn't Stoop That Low", "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot," "Resistance is Futile," and "some sort of Locutus pun?" This one goes out to all the nerds in the hizz-ouse.

Holographic wow
Sexing Up Sci-Fi

by Alison Veneto

Pre-Warning: I've been doing this long enough that I can see your e-mails before you send them to me. So let it be known that this article concerns the 'sexiness' of certain actors and actresses who work in Sci-Fi. I want to explain that what I mean as 'sexy' is traditional, cover-of-Playboy sexy. You make think Alyson Hannigan is the sexiest woman on the planet, but that's simply not what we're addressing here. And now, the sexy:

I'm not sure why, but the establishment has deemed it necessary to sex up sci-fi. You cannot greenlight a science fiction show without at least one verifiable hottie. And it seems to me that whenever a character gets replaced, they must get replaced by someone with significantly weaker acting skills but a seriously higher degree of hot.

Let's take a look at some of the replacements in the past. When Sliders began, it featured cute girl-nextdoor Wade, played by Sabrina Lloyd. When she left the show they replaced her with verified sexpot Kari Wurher. While Wuhrer has since gotten her breast implants removed, they were there in all their perky glory for her 3 years on the fading show.

Babylon 5 was a great example of a serious Sci-Fi show. You could tell how serious they were by lack of hotties. Not that there weren't some decent looking people on the show — but Bruce Boxleiter is hardly Kevin Sorbo. Jerry Doyle was balding. Mira Furlan was regal (and also bald for a while) but hardly 'hot'. The hottest woman on the show was Claudia Christian. And while I know some people personally who salivated over her, this reaction had a lot more to do with her character than her looks. But because she is sexier than most (Claudia was voted "sexiest woman in Sci-Fi" by SFX Magazine in 1998), she was hard to replace — whoever would they find? How about former model Tracy Scoggins? Yup. A Model.

Clearly it was decided that people would rather watch mediocre episodes that revolve around sexy Seven of Nine than watch mediocre episodes that revolved around the middle-aged Kate Mulgrew.
Sometimes characters don't have to be replaced; a show often decides to sex itself up when ratings slip. The best example of this is Seven of Nine. Now, I personally think Jeri Ryan is the sexiest woman ever on Sci-Fi television, but after she was added to the show she practically became the main character. Clearly it was decided that people would rather watch mediocre episodes that revolve around sexy Seven of Nine than watch mediocre episodes that revolved around the middle-aged Kate Mulgrew.

But Star Trek has always been sexy. Shatner was always getting it on with some green painted hottie in a bikini. But the show always tried to cast people in the main roles who were attractive but not so sexy as to be distracting or undermine the show's legitimacy (that is, until Seven of Nine). This is what we lay people refer to as 'accessibly hot'. Star Trek has perfected the casting of accessibly hot actors. With attractive women like Terry Farrell (Dax on DS9) and Roxann Dawson (B'Elanna on Voyager), they made them aliens with distracting facial features and put them in uniforms that said 'I have boobs' but not 'look here, boobs'. And for every fairly good looking Avery Brooks or Robert Duncan McNeil there was an Armin Shimerman or Ethan Phillips to even out the equation.

I have no problems with superheroes (Superman) or demi-gods (Hercules) being spray-on-the-water hardbodies. Xena does and should wear almost nothing. But it is very rare to see a main character, who is not made up to look like an alien, who isn't at least good looking enough to get work on a soap opera.

The Sci-Fi Channel seems to be a revolving door for people who would otherwise be working on soap operas. While they have some pretty sexy women, they also have some of the sexiest men on television.

While Macguyver (and of course that's my codename for Richard Dean Anderson) on Stargate SG-1 isn't as hunky as he used to be, resident Egyptologist Michael Shanks is pretty good looking no matter how hard they try to make him look like a nerd (which they do by putting on glasses). And of course, by the law of 'must be replaced by hotter', upon Richard Dean Anderson's departure was Ben Browder's (of Farscape fame) arrival. And he is a very pretty man. But so is Joe Flanigan, the main character on Stargate:Atlantis. But if he's too pretty for you, how about the ever manly Jason Momoa? They try to play equal opportunity on Atlantis with Dr. McKay being played by the indubitably normal looking David Hewlett, but he's hard to notice when Rachel Luttrell's buttressed boobs are around.

The smaller and more syndicated the show is, the bigger the boobs and muscles are. See: Cleopatra 2525, Mutant X or Andromeda.
And while we're looking into Sci-Fi's plastic surgery-filled past, let's not forget the show Lexx which was fit for Cinemax' late night progamming. But the Sci-Fi Channel is hardly the most guilty of indulging in this guilty pleasure. The smaller and more syndicated the show is, the bigger the boobs and muscles are. See: Cleopatra 2525, Mutant X or Andromeda.

But Battlestar Galactica, which always handles everything right, has handled the genre's 'sexy' requirement in a relatively classy way. First, you have Starbuck. While she's my favorite character on TV, she doesn't look like the ideal of sexy. But wait, what about Six? She's sure-as-hell sexy and Boomer too. Well, they're Cylons — of course they're sexy! If you're going to make some human-looking women from scratch, particularly ones that you want to mate with humans, they're probably going to be sexy. So yes, the real women look vaguely like real women and the sexy women have actual reasons for being so sexy. It's crazy. Now Lee Adama is a little prettier than he needs to be, but I was impressed that his brother Zack looked - y'know - normal. Suffice it to say, on BSG, the normal looking people out-number the sexies. The advantage of this is that they have outstanding actors (who emit sexiness through their characters and carriage). It's a trade off I'll take any day.

And the sexiness syndrome is not just relegated to cable and syndication. Some of the worst offenders are the networks. For instance, you can see where CBS said, "Well, Medium is a successful show. Can we do something like that? What can we bring to the concept that they don't have? (A lightbulb turns on) I know! A sexy main character!" Voila Ghost Whisperer. A show where Jennifer Love Hewitt shares billing with her boobs.

Seriously, even Hurley's pretty cute.
And of course, a now infamous offender — the hottest flight known to man — the plane-crashed passengers of Lost. In some producer's mind, the chubby comic relief of Jorge Garcia would balance out the massive amount of sexiness. For the ladies, you get hotties of almost all nationalities — Asian, African, Middle Eastern, Caucasian (long hair or short) — what do you want? And for the men you get a classic blond (or you did), a shortie blond, an Asian flower, a sassy Latina and a dangerous brunette. It's like this show was conceived by Freud. Or that psychologist who put together the Lesbian uniform-clad girl group Tatu. But please, of all the mysteries of the show, I can only hope they will explain why when I get on a plane and look around me, it doesn't look anything like that.

Right about now you might be saying "but on almost every TV show the main characters are hot." And this is certainly true of a number of shows. But the difference is that on these shows the main characters are not supposed to be scientists, Egyptologists, or 'regular people caught up in an unusual situation'. Characters playing ex-models (Eva Longoria on Desperate Housewives), actors (Matt LeBlanc at the beginning of Friends when he was still attractive) or Orange County princesses (Mischa Barton on The O.C.) can be as hot as they want and actually are in real life.

But no other genre employs as many ex-models as science fiction.

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